Interviewing family members can certainly benefit your ancestry research. But knowing the right family history interview questions to ask can really help you build your family tree. Family, co-workers and friends can give you a wealth of data and also save you time tracking down useful information found in certificates, censuses, etc.
The information that you can collect from these people may not have been recorded, so it is certainly worthwhile interviewing them. They may also be able to direct you to people who knew your ancestors or sources of information that will help you on your way.
Ask what resources your relatives can give to you!
They may in fact have certificates in their possession to which you can ask for a copy. If they have letters, wills and photographs then these can be copied as well. Family heirlooms can be photographed and added to your genealogy research.
Stories attached to heirlooms can add depth to your family history and make it even more interesting.
Interviewing is a great way to get more information to add to your family history research. Collecting names and dates can help you but getting stories and memories will add depth to your research. And as stated above will make it more interesting when it comes time to writing up your family history.
Tip: Why not interview your relatives at a family reunion? It is a great opportunity to get some much needed information about your ancestors. But please try not to go overboard with the questions at these events. It is supposed to be a fun time to catch up with your family after all.
Topics discussed in this post:
- Tips to follow for your interview
- Preparing for the interview
- Conducting the interview
- What to do with the information?
- Top 20 family history interview questions to ask
Tips To Follow For Your Interview
This can be done in a number of different forms, such as in person, by telephone, letter or email. When you do make contact please make sure you tell them who you are, how you are related to them and your ancestors, and what you hope to achieve with the interview.
You will want to say that you are conducting genealogy research. You can encourage them that any personal information disclosed will remain private. They may not wish the information that they give you to be made public.
Tip: State who will see the information that you will collect during the interview.
But what kind of interview?
When conducting a telephone interview call in advance so you can set a convenient time for both of you. Several phone calls may be needed to ask all of your questions. If interviewing through emails then leave space for the answers that you get.
A letter interview maybe the only option for you. If this is the case then enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope. You can then send them a thank you letter in response to their answers.
The first time you make contact will just be to introduce yourself and stating your reasons for the interview. You will then give your relative time to collect anything that may be of use to you. This will also allow their time to remember stories and anecdotes about your ancestors.
Preparing For The Interview
Before you conduct the interview you will want to prepare what questions you will ask. That way you will get the most out of the interview and not forget any important questions. As new information may arise during your research you may wish to conduct a second interview or maybe even more.
Tip: Please though make sure that they are comfortable with more interviews.
With any type of interview that you conduct make sure that it is free from interruptions. To get the most out of the interview you can ask open-ended questions rather than closed-ended ones. The former will add more depth to the information you get as they explain how and why to your questions.
So how will you record their responses?
You may just want to write down their answers using pencil and paper. However, you may also wish to use either a tape recorder or video camera. Before you do interview your relatives please make sure that they are comfortable with this as they may feel intimidated in front of a video camera.
Tip: If you are using a video camera then it is a good idea to state the date and location for future reference.
Start the camera before the actual interview begins and try to make your relative comfortable before the questioning. This way you will have recorded everything, and you won’t need to remember their initial answers from memory.
You could place the camera out of sight so that they are not nervous or embarrassed by the interview. The camera does not have to be focused on the interviewee, but maybe on both of you. Make sure though that the camera is on a level surface.
Do test your equipment before the interview. You do not want to get home only to find that your responses were not recorded at all or you ran out of batter power.
What other things can be brought to the interview?
Not only will you ask the interviewee to gather anything that may help you with your research but you will want to bring photographs, charts, letters with you. You can ask them whether the information in them is correct, or identify who is in the photos. It may also trigger a memory that they may have forgotten.
This has certainly been the case with me. It can be surprising what stories or anecdotes spring to mind during the course of an interview.
Conducting The Interview
When you do meet your relative you may want to remind them again just how you two are related. Do make your relative comfortable before you conduct the interview. The setting could be at their home, at yours, or even at a mutual place such as a restaurant.
If your relative has photographs, letter or documents then please ask permission to make copies. You may have to take them with you after your visit. If you do so then reassure them that you will return them and state by when. You could though take pictures using your phone or a camera.
How to begin the interview process?
Start with the photos and ask your relative about them. You can ask who is in the photo, where it was taken and what the occasion was. Beforehand label the photos that you will bring with you. Write down what you know on the back and try to find out what information that you are missing from them.
Photos can be great at triggering a memory and are far less intimidating than if you only had questions during the meeting. Before you discuss each photograph you can show it to the camera. This will help you later when you enter the information that you have collected.
Once you have finished with the photographs, letters, documents, etc. then begin your questioning.
If your interviewee does not want to answer a question or does not know the answer then just move on to the next question. Your relative may recollect a memory and answer your question later on in the interview.
Follow a plan of action when conducting the interview!
Try to keep to the order of questions that you will ask. You do not want to jump around and forget questions. Please give time for responses and do not hurry the interviewee. You may feel as the interview progresses that a second visit is called for.
If this is the case then make sure your relative is aware of this and ask whether you can return with more questions. Interviewing an elderly relative may be too much for them so spreading this out over a few interviews is a good option.
One thing that you will want to do after the interview is to return to your ancestor once you have put all the information together. Assure them that you will return to show them what you have done with information that they have provided.
Your relative may be pleased with another visit and be interested to see what you have done with all that they have given. You can ask them to check over it all to make sure that everything is correct. This though may take a few visits itself as the information you may present could be quite vast for one visit.
What To Do With The Information?
A transcript of the interview can be typed up to which you can show your relative to make sure there are no errors. Once you have done this then you can enter what you have learnt into your genealogy software program. With this new information you will be able to update and amend names, dates and places, as well as add new branches that can be researched further.
You can also scan in the photographs, letters, etc, that you have collected. Any pictures that you have taken with your camera or smartphone can be uploaded to your computer.
You may wish to make hard copies of these to put in your files and folders. This is always a good idea as you will have a backup of the information.
Your interviewee can suggest to you people and relatives that can help you further. So you can take what you have learned from this process when you conduct another interview. You may find ways of improving your techniques, or think of new questions you may want to ask.
Top 20 Family History Interview Questions To Ask
These top 20 questions to ask your family members are divided into several parts. You may want to ask all the questions or only some of them. There are certainly a lot more questions that you can ask.
These though are a good starting point when conducting your first interview with a relative. You may want to return and gather more information later on.
General information about the family
1. What is your full name? Were you named after anyone and what nicknames did you have growing up?
2. When and where were you born? Where did you live when growing up?
3. What were your parents and grandparents names? When and where were they born and were they named after anyone? You may want to ask about great grandparents as well.
4. Where did they live and what were their occupations? When did they die and where are they buried?
5. Do you have any brothers and sisters? What are their names, when and where were they born? Did they marry and to who?
6. Did your parents, grandparents have siblings? What were their names, and when and where were they born? Did they marry and to who?
Going into more detail
7. How did you meet your partner? How did your parents, and your grand parents meet?
8. Tell me about your wedding? Your parents, grandparents wedding?
9. What are your memories of your parents and grandparents?
10. What can you tell me about your father’s relatives? What about your mother’s family?
11. What memories do you have of aunts, uncles, and cousins?
12. What stories did your parents and grandparents recite to you about your ancestors?
Your ancestors life
13. What is your earliest memory? Do you have any childhood memories?
14. Describe your house and the area where you lived?
15. Which school(s) did you attend and what was it like? Who were your schoolfriends?
16. What was your first job? What other jobs did you do during your working life? What were they like?
17. Where did you go on holidays as a child and as an adult?
18. What were your pastimes and hobbies?
19. What events impacted you the most while growing up?
20. What is your greatest achievement?
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